The Dodge Family Love Affair

Three generations of the Dodge family visited Africa University in June 2018.It made perfect sense that Dr. Ed Dodge would recommend his family go on a climb of Mt. Chiremba in Zimbabwe. The view from Mt. Chiremba was magnificent, and so was the family’s historic sojourn to Zimbabwe.

After all, it was a call to Africa that began what is now 80-year love affair.

Dodge’s parents, Ralph and Eunice Dodge, first went to Angola in 1936. Ed Dodge was only three months old when his parents left the United States to begin their life-long passion, and eight decades of ministry and service.  In 1956, six years after the then Rev. Ralph Dodge was appointed to administer the work of the Methodist Board of Missions in Africa and Europe, he became the first Methodist Bishop, and the only American missionary ever elected Bishop by the Africa Central Conference.

This passion for serving others was the legacy Ed Dodge inherited. It would continue years later, in his role as adjunct professor in the department of Health Sciences at Africa University. This commitment continued for one semester a year until 2015, when at age 79, Dr. Dodge retired. 

Through the years he maintained ties with students, faculty members, and other friends made in Zimbabwe. This ongoing relationship was one of the reasons that Dodge, and his fifteen-member family traveled to AU for graduation this year.  “We wanted to get in touch with the rich family legacy left by my parents as a result of their work in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) decades ago,” said  Dodge. “Although much of this was a re-visit for me, it was a first-time, onsite kind of experience for my children and grandchildren.”

Dr. Ed Dodge presented the Bishop Ralph and Mrs. Eunice Dodge Prize for the best student in the MPH program to Paddington Mundagowa.

In addition to retracing Dodge family ties to Africa, it also meant the family would learn more about his work at AU, and his role in shaping the  understanding of healthy foods among the students and faculty.  The family was impressed with the university’s upcoming project to model and teach healthy lifestyles across the continent. Eighteen-year-old grandson, Bayush Alford commented, “The chance to go to AU to me meant a chance to contextualize the history that I'd heard so much about for years. And BOY, did it deliver!”

Graduation day at Africa University was unlike any other.  Flags of more than 30 countries flew against a blue sky; the majestic Mt. Chiremba in the background. The open tent overflowed with anxiously awaiting graduates, parents, faculty, special guests, family and friends.  Music from the AU choir echoed across the valley, accompanied by cheers and chants of celebration.

Students, 309 women and 307 men, lined up to receive their degrees, prizes and special recognitions. Ed Dodge presented the Bishop and Mrs. Ralph Dodge prize to the top graduating student in the Master of Public Health class. He was continuing the legacy of the safari for learning established by Bishop Dodge half a century ago.

This trip was a homecoming and a celebration of giving back for three generations of the Dodge family. It was a time for connecting to family roots.  The day visit to the Old Mutare Mission, the Ehnes Memorial Church, key to much of Bishop Dodge’s ministry, and the family memorial moment spent in the garden-like setting of the AU campus entrance, were all impressions the Dodge family would never forget.

Bayush said, “I've gained so much from this experience.  Getting to meet actual people who said "Your grandfather has done so much for me." Or, "Your great grandfather changed the game in Zimbabwe!" It changed the way I saw the church. Great gramps is called 'the Revolutionary Bishop' because of the way he changed the way Zimbabweans viewed themselves.”  He continued, “One Zimbabwean I spoke to said, "I remember your great-grandfather saying ' If these people [Zimbabweans] can run the church, then they can run the country' and I thought, by God, he's right!" Knowing that he was willing and able to do all that, and gladly, makes me proud to be a part of this family.”

Africa University alumni, about 8,800, continue making disciples and addressing the challenges of hunger, poverty, disease and conflict.  These images and more for the Dodge family, would fuel the future of a continuing love affair.

Story by Celinda Hughes, freelance writer.